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Berlin launches single app for booking private and public transport

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A tram runs on a street in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Berlin’s public transport company Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) aims to serve up all the city’s public and private transport options in one handy app.

The app, called Jelbi, launches Tuesday. This is the first and most extensive multimodal transport collaboration in Europe, according to BVG chief financial, digitalisation, and distribution officer Henrik Haenecke.

"Not so long ago you would say well, car sharing, bike sharing, they are all competitors, we need to do our own bike sharing,” Haenecke told Yahoo Finance UK. “Now we say, actually these guys think like we do, together we can offer mobility that is indeed a good alternative to the private car."

There are already numerous aggregator apps on the market, like Citymapper and Free2move, that bundle public transport and ride-sharing onto one platform. Most of these apps, however, require you to open even more apps to cross-check and book.

Haenecke said that Jelbi, developed by Lithuanian startup Trafi, is different because it lets users see all the ways to get to their destination, select, book, and pay without leaving the app.

Jelbi will only have a few partners for its pilot phase, but says it has more than 25 different private transport companies interested in joining the platform.

Heavyweights like Sixt Share and Share Now (BMW and Daimlers’ joint car share that offers Car2Go and Drive Now) will be conspicuously absent from the Jelbi app.

“They want to own the customer, they want to own the brand, so at the moment they have not expressed interest to be part of this,” Haenecke said. “We said, okay we’re going to build this up with the partners that are interested. Maybe they will join us at a later point in time."

The transport CFO said that as a public company, they aren’t aiming to make money from Jelbi, and breaking even cost-wise would be fine for them down the line.

He said though that there is “definitely a business there, because Uber and Daimler and BMW are doing exactly the same thing: They are combining their services with public transit, because they want to make money.”

Jelbi will essentially be a research project for the moment, collecting data that currently does not exist on how Berliners get from A to B.

BVG will share trip data from the app with the companies on the platform. “We don’t need personalised data — we don’t want to know how you move around in the city — but we want to understand how does Berlin move around,” Haenecke said.

Mobility services are booming in the German capital. As well as the underground, S-Bahn, bus, and tram, people can choose from a growing number of, car-, moped-, and bike-share companies. Electric kick scooters will soon join the fray.

Haenecke said he does not agree with the common complaint that Berlin’s pavements are being swamped with share bikes.

"There’s a lot of discussion about the ‘mountain’ of unused shared bikes in the streets, but I’ve never seen any. I would say there are mountains of cars standing in the streets, doing nothing, and wasting lots of space,” he said.